One last Camino post, more than two months post-Camino, here we go!
Okay, “versus” is in the title, but it’s not really a competition. When most people talk about “the” Camino or first hear about the pilgrimage, they are referring to the Camino Francés, the most popular Camino. However, as you learn more about the Camino, and maybe after you walk your first one, you realize that there are many paths to Santiago. This post discusses some of the advantages of the two Caminos that I know.
The Camino Francés is the yellow route and the Primitivo is purple.
The Camino Francés
- At just over 800 kilometers the Camino Francés is the longer of these two options. Most pilgrims take around 30 days to do the whole thing and this gives your body time to adjust to the rhythm of walking everyday and your brain time to get out of the monkey mind of your “normal” life and settle into the Camino. I met many pilgrims who were just doing the last 100 k, from Sarria to Santiago and this really doesn’t give bodies time to adjust or allow minds to disconnect. Doing the entire Francés provides the space and time to experience a transformation. Physically stronger, mentally tougher and spiritually transformed? It could all happen by the time you arrive in Santiago!
- The Francés has the most services (restaurants, cafes, bars, a variety of accommodation options, stores and pharmacies). If you are thinking of your first Camino, unless you have a lot of experience backpacking, the ease of how services are organized on the French Route will help you transition into Camino life. Remember, many of these towns exist because of and for the steady stream of pilgrims over hundreds of years!A restaurant, shop and vending machine just outside of Pamplona.
- This route also offers the most options as far as breaking up the stages and really walking your own Camino. Since it is the most trafficked, most days you can easily walk more or less than what the guidebook says, thus really listening to your body and doing your personal Camino. My first albergue in St. Jean. The French route offers hostels, pensions, small hotels and even luxurious accommodation options.
- The natural landscapes on the Primitivo are stunning. The other routes have some gorgeous sections, too, but the one-week flat and straight meseta of the Francés can become a bit tedious and there is definitely less asphalt on the Primitivo. The Hospitales route on the Primitivo, probably the most famous stage. No asphalt here.
- Most people that I met on the Primitivo had already done another Camino and were back for more. Some people feel that the French route’s popularity has caused the quality of the pilgrimage to suffer. While I still believe the French route is very special, it is true that there are a lot of Camino tourists. If you are looking for a “purer” experience, the Primitivo offers less crowds, kindred pilgrim companions and some quality albergue experiences. Sharing stories at bedtime in Bodenaya.
- If you want to level-up your Camino experience, then this route is going to challenge you. The stages tend to be longer and you are walkling up and over the mountains. The steep ups and downs are not for everyone! Physically, my hardest days were here (but also my happiest to arrive and some of my best sleeps). Friends and fellow pilgrims encourage you to keep going and look out for each other.
So, how do you know which Camino to do? Just like which items will end up in your backpack, it’s a personal decision. A few things to keep in mind are: the amount of time you have, previous training/experience outdoors, how busy/social you’d prefer the trail to be and presence of services that you are comfortable with.
All offer physical and mental challenges, some amazing scenery, delicious regional cuisine and wine, unforgettable fellow pilgrims and the endpoint, that special city, Santiago... unless you keep walking to the coast, adding another little Camino to your route. ;)
My answer? Keep coming back until I’ve experienced them all. I’ve got a good rhythm going so far with half of the Francés in 2016 and the Francés, Primitivo and Coastal routes in 2017. Join me on the Portugués in 2018?!?
Photo credit: M from South Korea. Taken in Itero De la Vega (on the Camino Francés).